On Ezra Klein, Stephen has a long, wonky piece about why Brownback is likely to win the Republican primary. Giuliani and McCain, he says, are mired in personal problems – public divorces or age – and used to be very hostile to the religious right. Romney is a Mormon, which is a serious problem for many Protestant fundamentalists in the US.
SLC suggests this will turn Hagel into a serious candidate, but Hagel’s trademark issue is isolationism, which doesn’t have a big constituency within the Republican Party, while Brownback’s is Dominionism, which does. Because of Bush, Stephen says (and I concur), Evangelists are very keen on a candidate who looks authentic, such as Brownback but not McCain.
The main problem with Brownback, as far as I’m concerned, is that he’s extremely electable. Polls aren’t very useful at this stage, but for what they’re worth, they pit Obama as the most electable Democrat and give him a higher share in the primary. The problem with Obama is that he’s perfect against any of the three currently leading candidates in the Republican primary, but useless against Brownback.
Giuliani, McCain, and Romney will all bleed support from religious voters, who could find solace in Obama’s hyper-religiosity. Giuliani would bleed the fewest because he could use race-baiting the most effectively to keep them in the Republican column, but as the aftermath of the macaca incident shows, racism is not so strong a political force as it used to be. Unlike Edwards, who says all that matters is class, Obama speaks religious voters’ native language. Furthermore, his general demeanor is one that can lock the Northeast and can play in Peoria.
Brownback changes everything. He’ll be able to effectively use cultural issues like abortion to lock the South and Plains states. He can drag Obama into a religious pissmatch Obama has no chance of winning; while Obama preaches faith-based prison rehabilitation programs at a Sojourners conference, Brownback does so from within a prison participating in such a program.
A Brownback candidacy will turn off a lot of people in the Interior West, who are more libertarian than fundamentalist. However, the Democrats have no good candidate who could regain their support; Warner and Feingold and possibly even Vilsack could, but none of them is running. Clinton could win in Arizona and New Mexico on immigration, and Edwards could win in Colorado and Montana on economic populism, but Brownback will be able to more than make up for that by thrusting into the Midwest. Richardson might be able to make significant gains, but his chances of winning the primary are marginally higher than Kucinich’s.
The Democrat who has the highest chance of defeating Brownback, Edwards, will probably not win the primary (and shouldn’t). In an Edwards/Brownback race, Edwards won’t win a single Southern state, but will likely be able to keep Pennsylvania and Michigan, and possibly win Ohio. Edwards’ natural weakness in the Northeast will matter less, since New Jersey won’t vote for Brownback no matter what (though it’s plausible Maryland will).
Further, the Midwest isn’t socially liberal. In a religious pissmatch, Obama will probably keep most blue states in the Midwest by wooing religious voters, and so can Edwards; however, Brownback will probably make gains. In particular, Pennsylvania is politically Midwestern; whereas the rest of the Northeast is to the bottom left or bottom right of the American center, Pennsylvania is to the top left, which is why it elected a pro-life Democrat to replace Santorum.
What this boils down is ultimately the Democrats’ lack of appeal to libertarians. Obama is overtly courting Dominionists and Edwards is covertly (Clinton will court whoever is willing to vote for her), but nobody is courting libertarians. On the contrary, on one of the most important issues to libertarian voters, budget-balancing, the Democrats are wavering even though they could cut the deficit in half by forcing a withdrawal from Iraq and then eliminate it by reducing administrative health spending, say by VAening Medicare.
Ironically, that’s part of Feingold’s appeal. In Wisconsin, he got support from libertarians by promising honest government and budget balancing and creating an outside the Beltway persona, and then living up to his promises and persona. Despite his being even more economically left-wing than Edwards – for a start, his health care ideas make more sense from a realist perspective – he has an almost unparalleled ability to appeal to libertarians. Add his Iraq War vote and his stance on civil liberties to the mix, and you have someone who’s in an excellent position to turn the election from a referendum on Christianity to a referendum on Bush.
Richardson might be able to fulfill the same role if only he could win the primary. He’s a Hispanic Governor, which already makes him strong in the Southwest; although he comes from the bluest and smallest Southwestern state, he could probably win Arizona, Colorado, and Nevada as well. Like Warner, he projects utmost managerial competence, in particular when it comes to diplomacy, making him strong on Iraq. He’s not going to be competitive in any state Bush won in 2004 east of the Mississippi, but there’s enough ground to make up west of it. Most significantly, a Brownback candidacy will cede the Northeast to the Democrats, leaving them room to concentrate on the West.